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Flower crafts made fresh from a Sebastopol garden

Just as we can our tomatoes, pick our cucumbers and freeze our green beans to savor later, we can also save our flowers for a dark winter day.

Drying flowers is an ancient practice. Who hasn’t opened an old book on grandma’s shelf and watched a delicate flower flutter to the ground?

There is a reason so many flowers can be found in books. Pressing flowers within the pages of a heavy book will help them dry into something that could last forever.

Jan Lochner has been pressing flowers for some 50 years, ever since she first spotted some wildflowers while backpacking and decided to pluck several to take them home. She pressed the petals into the pages of a book she had brought along, and a lifelong hobby was born.

“I would make a card and send it to my parents. I made wedding invitations with lupine,” she recalled.

Lochner’s love of flowers goes back to the enchantment she found in her grandmother’s garden.

She teaches how to make simple projects for the home, such as refrigerator magnets, hanging ornaments and vases, as well as bookmarks and cards, all decorated with Mother Nature’s handiwork.

Lochner, a retired physical therapist, began creating dried flower crafts earnestly when her kids — now ages 24 and 30 — were in school. She would help out and lead classroom projects in making cards and bookmarks. That led to selling flower cards at Andy’s Produce and later at craft fairs.

Her home is her studio; the dining room table is her work surface de ella. Her kitchen cupboards and a bedroom closet are stacked with boxes and trays of dried flowers. While they don’t carry the romanticism of pressing flowers in a book of poetry, old school phone books make the best books for flower drying, Lochner has found. Stacks of them along a wall in the garage serve as her drying station.

“I buy card stock by the thousand and pick blooms from my garden and other public places.” she said. “My family is used to saying, could we stop for just a few minutes so I can gather some more?”

Lochner spends most of her retirement time working with plants. She is a volunteer with the local Milo Baker Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, specializing in invasive plants, and she heads up the school nursery at Santa Rosa’s Willowside School. Both offer opportunities for petal plucking. But these days she avoids most wildflowers, knowing how rare many of them are and how hard they work to survive.

An easy craft

Creating pretty things, like a bookmark or a clear ornament to hang in a window, is rewarding and easy. Lochner said it really doesn’t require any advanced art or crafting skills. It’s an inclusive craft. But a good eye for arranging and color elevate a child’s project to something worthy gift.

“I use color, shape and texture on fine quality paper,” Lochner said of her work. Selecting which flowers to use is a creative pleasure — and also subject to trail and error. Some flowers like irises are too thin and difficult to press. Broad leaves, she said, can become too brittle. Hydrangeas are among her favorites of her. She makes a visit every year to an acquaintance’s garden that has 50 hydrangea bushes from which she can harvest flowers.

Other winners for drying and crafting, she said, are Queen Anne’s lace, which is best when its flowers are still in clusters but not fully open. Among her go-tos for best results are love-in-a-mist (pick as soon as it opens or the petals will fall off after pressing), larkspur, delphiniums, ferns, bougainvillea, coral bells, crocosmia, calendula and pansies.

Each part of the process has its pleasures: from harvest, when the flowers are rich with color and fragrance, to the process of sitting down and arranging her own designs on card stock. The work is soothing and therapeutic.

“I consider making the cards my meditation — to be sensitive to each subtle nuance — to enjoy the diversity of Nature,” she writes in her artist statement. “In my art, I love every step: noticing when specific flowers are beginning to bloom, harvesting and pressing, sorting and storing, and finally gluing and packaging.

“The nuances of each specimen entertain me as I try to showcase them in a card. It is important that the people have the real thing — a real flower — on their card. I seek to enhance but not overpower the natural splendor.”

Though phone books aren’t always easy to find anymore, Lochner believes they do the best job of pressing and drying. The print doesn’t rub off and they have plenty of pages. She places five to 20 items on a page and then turns about a one-quarter-inch worth of pages and repeats. A big phone book will provide about 20 drying sections.

Keep them in a warm and dry location where the air moves — a sunny window, on a shelf near a heater vent or on a sunny porch in winter, near a pilot light or even over the low heat from a computer will work nicely.

It takes one to three weeks to adequately dry flowers. You can store them on trays, in plastic bags with cardboard or in shoeboxes. Just don’t leave them in the leaves of the book. You may never find them again.

The craft doesn’t require a lot of tools, just a pair of sharp scissors, single-edged razor blades for fine trimming of leaves, tweezers to move the delicate petals around, a bright light source and white paper to work on. You will also need a purple glue stick — like a Uhu Stic — for gluing paper to paper and to tack down thick leaves. For painting the backs of flowers before affixing them to paper, use Elmer’s School Gel, thinned, or a clear liquid washable glue.

Dried flowers can be incorporated into many easy crafts. To make refrigerator magnets, place petals between two 1-by-3-inch microscope slides and attach them on the edges with copper tape, silvered copper foil or silver backed copper foil.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or On Twitter @megmcconahey.

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